Nathan Ake next? Five players who went back to their youth and how they fared

Date published: Saturday 9th July 2022 12:45 - Ian Watson

Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Gerard Pique all returned to their former clubs.

If Chelsea sign Nathan Ake, they need to hope it goes better than the last time they bought back a former youngster.

Here are five players who returned to where it all began, with varying results…


Paul Pogba
Had Sir Alex Ferguson still been in charge in 2016, United almost certainly wouldn’t have bought back Pogba from Juventus for £89million. Fergie felt Pogba had shown him and the club a ‘lack of respect’ when he walked out of Old Trafford in 2012, with the manager of the opinion that the young midfielder was an ‘extraordinary talent’ but also a ‘dreamer’.

How right he was. As Jose Mourinho discovered to his cost. Mourinho attempted to placate Pogba, even after he first tried to engineer an exit, by giving the midfielder the vice-captaincy. It was a fragile peace that was shattered when Mourinho described the record signing as a ‘virus’.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggled to tease any consistency from Pogba too, while Ralf Rangnick didn’t bother trying, with the player having checked out mentally a long time before his second departure as a free agent. By then, most United fans had Pogba sussed, and for those that still needed it spelling out for them, along came The Pogmentary.


The Pogmentary proves Manchester United are well rid of Paul Pogba drama…


Romelu Lukaku
“I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I’m coming back with a lot of experience and more mature. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling.”

That feeling lasted barely a couple of months before Lukaku was pining to return somewhere else. He was back at Chelsea as their record signing having left the club in 2014 after three years as a young pretender to Didier Drogba’s throne. He managed only 10 appearances before a couple of loans and, eventually, a £28million switch to Everton.

He thrived there, which convinced Man Utd to fork out £75million in 2017. Chelsea were keen then too, but he opted for Old Trafford instead. Much to his and United’s regret.

Inter took him off United’s hands, and in Italy, he re-established his credentials as a top-class goalscorer. Was he finally ready to become one of the world’s leading hit-men?

Nope. He flopped spectacularly back at Chelsea while openly flirting with his ex. Inter waited until the end of the season before pulling Chelsea’s pants down once more while borrowing Lukaku for the season.


Gerard Pique
Contrary to the evidence offered by the first two examples on this list, buying back former young players isn’t always a disaster. Sometimes it results in that player becoming president of the club.

That seemed to be the plan for Pique – at least it was until recently, with the defender now mired in allegations over his private life while Xavi reportedly has no use for the veteran centre-back.

But Pique had been a pillar at the back for Barca. He returned to the Nou Camp in 2008 having failed to break up the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership at the heart of United’s defence. Tough gig. But Pique went back after four years away from his boyhood club and immediately became a first-team regular. In 14 seasons so far, the 35-year-old has won eight La Liga titles and the Champions League three times.


Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas came through the La Masia finishing school at the same time as Pique but the midfielder arrived in England in 2003, slightly earlier than his team-mate.

At Arsenal, Fabregas established himself as one of the best young midfielders in Europe. It didn’t take long for Barca to recognise what they had lost and soon the Catalans began a prolonged pursuit, irritating Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. But it always felt like resistance was futile, especially in the days when Barca were decisive in the transfer market, unlike these days when they keep writing cheques their bank can’t cash.

It took two years and around £35million, but eventually Barca got their boy back as a man. However, Fabregas struggled to establish himself as a first-choice midfielder – hardly surprising with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets around. So Barca returned Cesc to London while getting their money back, but the Spain international came back to undertake ‘unfinished business in the Premier League’ with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea rather than Arsenal.

Peter Crouch
“I think back to when I was 17,” said Crouch upon retiring. “I was a trainee at Tottenham but there were 10 forwards blocking my route.”

That didn’t stop Spurs from offering Crouch a professional deal, but still the lanky forward couldn’t crack the first team at White Hart Lane. “They loaned me to Dulwich Hamlet and then IFK Hassleholm in Sweden. Let’s be honest – you would not have taken odds on me making it then.”

But a move to QPR changed his prospects. He moved to Loftus Road for £60,000 in 2000 and scored 10 goals in his first season. That saw Pompey pay £1.5million, which turned out to be a savvy investment when Villa coughed up £5million a year later. Crouch also thrived at Southampton, Liverpool and once more at Pompey before Tottenham came calling again for their former apprentice.

In two successful seasons back at Spurs, Crouch took his boyhood club into the Champions League, scoring 24 goals in 93 appearances. But he was on the move again in 2011, when Stoke offered Spurs their money back, and a bit more, to make Crouch their record signing.

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